Keeping up with the neighbours

Last week, Vienna hosted the first Symposium of Horticulture in Europe, at which a feast of research and development (R&D) from across the EU was laid out.

National specialities were obvious. Germany is developing engineering for automated testing in distribution and molecular biology to enhance quality. Sweden has developed facilities modelling relationships of environment and quality. France has forged close integration between food quality and human health. Italy is the major source for genotypes with novel quality traits. And the Dutch are masters of marketing. These collective talents bring European horticulture into sharp focus as a force for economic, environmental and social progress that EU bureaucrats cannot ignore. Networking by the research groups will capture EU financial support.

But where was Britain? In a word: nowhere. Our horticulture industry cannot continue much longer without increased underpinning by new R&D. Britain has whittled down its once-proud power base for horticultural R&D almost to nothing, while our EU neighbours are enhancing their horticultural abilities and reaping revenue.

Physical, mental and environmental health is horticulture's domain. Britain seems steadfastly incapable of recognising these contributions to society and providing sound means to capture them. Educational provision, especially at higher levels, is weak and R&D almost wholly reliant on levy payments taken solely from the production industry. Provision for UK horticulture is badly out of step with that of our neighbours. And the knowledge and facilities needed to reverse this are virtually extinct.

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